Power of gender politics – Choosing a school

BCW teamAgency, Inquiry, Understanding Learners

Power of Gender Politics

The power of gender politics

Learning spaces and environments are political spaces. Subtle actions, tones, images and words can create realities for students in school. These realities influence the identity claims, expression, values and beliefs students hold about themselves. Some of the areas available to this influence include gender, cultural identity, ability and valued social interactions. This list is a brief snapshot of some of the hidden curriculum agendas at play in a school environment.

Gender politics affects all students in a school. The political, social and cultural expectations about how gender is performed and shaped in everyday school situations are powerful. Phrases such as ‘boys will be boys’, ‘boys don’t cry’ and politically laden tags like ‘ladies’ and the separation into only boys or girls all carry messages about gender expectations, expression and requirements.

School rules connected to clothing and hairstyle also impact on the gender identities students are trying to claim in schools and may disregard or demean a student’s deeply held internal and individual sense of gender.

Some of the things to consider or reflect on when looking at what gender expectations are carried in a school’s belief system include:

  • The images in school documents
    • Are students in equally active roles or does a given gender have a more passive role in the majority of the images?
    • What ‘style’ of students are being included in school images? – Are stereotypical gendered images being portrayed or is there a mix of gender realities?
    • What ratio of different genders is shown in images relating to given subjects such as sports or other school activities?
  • The clothing or dress regulations
    • Does the dress code/uniform policy encourage and allow for active movement for all genders?
    • Is the dress code/ uniform policy one that is respectful of difference in ability and body shape?
    • Does the dress code/ uniform policy leave any gender at risk of ‘snooping’ or exposure? (i.e. dresses that blow up in the wind or that can be seen up when walking up stairs)
    • Does the dress code/ uniform policy favour a given gender’s identity claim over any other?
    • Are there more expectations on the amount of physical coverage for one gender as opposed to the other?
    • Does one gender gets followed up more for dress code infractions than any other?
    • Do teachers and staff of one gender require/comment more on students of other genders?
    • Is clothing used as a tool or excuse for explaining or excusing certain bullying or abusive behaviours of other students?
    • Do hairstyle conditions in dress code/ uniform policy mirror traditional or more open ideas about how gender can be expressed? 
  • The language used by school admin and teachers
    • Are students addressed equally as people or categorised by gender?
    • Do girls have the expectations of passivity put upon them by being addressed as ‘ladies’?
    • Are boys allowed and encouraged to be quiet and gentle or is the language one that reifies more traditionally constructed ways of doing maleness
    • Is boy/girl gender identity distinction the only two genders recognised and respected by the school?
    • Is there only a respect and valuing of the many ways gender can be expressed or is it just the traditional binary notions of gender that are visible?
    • Do teachers and other staff use gender-neutral terms and pronouns in verbal and in written interactions?
    • Is the default language that of a set gendered pronoun?
    • Do the staff and other adults use adages and phrases that have hidden but powerful gender expectations?
    • In school documents what language is used to describe student expectations? Is gender-based language being used to set expectations or codes of behaviour?

Some other big ideas to consider

  • Is gender used as defining criteria for expectations, or are students viewed as people who are individual and more than their socially constructed gender?
  • What is the gender distribution among powerful roles in the school?
  • What actions, language and roles do staff and other adults in the school use or have that might allude to a bias in their beliefs around gender performance and beliefs?

This post, “Choosing a school – The Long Term view” is the fourth in a four part series including

  • Choosing a school – Who is the learner? (Part 1)
  • Choosing a school – What type of school? (Part 2)
  • Choosing a school – The Long Term view (Part 3)